Fern Bass

Fern Bass

Interviewed on 19.04.2011

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[TRACK 1]

[recorded outdoors - background interference – singing birds, wind etc]

This is Tony Wright, it’s the nineteenth of April 2011 and I’m talking to Fern in the Zion Co-op and the first question I would like to ask is your full name and where and when you were born?

FERN BASS: Right. My full name is Fern Bass and I was born in London in Whitechapel Hospital in 1953.

TW:

Right. What was London like then when you were growing up?

FB: I had a very interesting view of London. My father was a petty criminal and I grew up with what you call new money. The family had done very well in the war, managing not to fight or anything like that, but to have protected jobs and my grandmother was pretty much king of the black market in the East End, so I had a privileged upbringing. Education was very strange, but...I never fitted in because I came from a background where I was put into private education, but in those days old money counted and new money was looked down on, but it all...when I was about ten my Dad got caught and life changed dramatically then. An experience that was probably, you know, until I was ten, far too old for me. I was used to very much the seedier side of Soho and the East End of London. When I was fifteen I left home, went to art college, decided that I knew I had to look myself so I couldn’t do fine art. I made a choice and went into advertising and when I left college, with a partner I met in college, we set up an agency and within about five years we were quite a bit successful which wasn’t what I wanted! [laughing] It wasn’t at all what I wanted and so in ’76 I thought you know ‘this isn’t me, it’s not what I want’ and I joined a....followed a guru and joined an ashram, and a couple of years later I’d had a semi-arranged marriage. It was a really interesting experience for me. I loved the communal experience.

TW:

Was that in Britain or was that overseas?

FB: It was an international organisation, a bit like transcendental meditation, but typically I chose to go to Liverpool when people were going all over the world. What did I do? I chose to go to Liverpool in ’78 and.....I had always been sort of.....political. I’d always been aware, politically aware but it was actually going to Liverpool in ’78 that I suddenly realised the huge divide between what I was experiencing up there and anything I’d experienced before in London and that.....that was one of those pointers you know, that hit you......it didn’t work out for me and my husband and.....we did have a child in our first year together but really you know, we weren’t, we were not suited at all, [laughing] 

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it was.....it didn’t seem to matter. I also had a daughter who died as a baby and that.....that put me in a dip for about a year and coming through that I realised I wasn’t doing what I’d always wanted to do which was follow my creative drive and see where it was gonna go, so being a single parent with a small baby, well he was about two then, I was in quite a privileged position in London. I was working a lot in theatre because I chose to work in groups. One of my first thoughts was I never wanted to produce an art work that I couldn’t afford to buy and I’m certainly not about to produce things that would cost enough for me to afford to live so this isn’t going to work [laughing] so working as a set designer, costume designer, I’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve worked right across London with some fascinating people

TW:

Which theatres did you work in?

FB: The Oval House....I loved the studio up there.

TW:

I exhibited there in ’75 I think it was yeah, I know it

FB: That was a bit before my... I think I got in there in the eighties ......there was the Tricycle.... Mydrill Hall and a lot of touring theatres....I kind of specialised in making a set and props and everything that would fit into a small van and be able to adapt to any type of you know, student hall or wherever it was gonna be performed and things like that, so....I worked with the Covent Garden Puppet Theatre which on the face of it sounds good [laughing]...and that was fascinating working on those shows, but I did a lot of work with.... women’s theatre productions and gay theatres and things and so through the ‘80s it was all kicking off in the arts and with the GLC (Greater London Council) down there and somehow I managed to get elected onto the GLC [laughing]

TW:

That’s an extraordinary new direction!

FB: I’m not sure how that happened....I think I was going through a phase of political meetings where I should have learnt to sit on my hands instead of sort of putting my hand up when I thought something needed doing....so yeah, I was doing fine but as my son got older, it’s all very well for yourself to live as an artist and to work and not know where money’s coming in and again, even though I was getting a steady income, it was getting more difficult. You needed regular school hours. We couldn’t wake up under a pool table again, that was dreadful so yes, I wasn’t always the perfect mother but it was interesting, so I took a temporary job in something which I’ve always been interested in which was housing co-operatives. I’d managed to join a housing co-op when my son was a baby and.....lived in several in Islington and London and to me that was it, you know, not ownership of property but shared responsibility and community and it was the 

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Islington Housing Co-op section that had a temporary vacancy and for the first time in my life I did a proper job....I think within about five months I’d become the shop steward for the housing co-op section, that was always to be, and pretty soon after that I was the building rep right the way through until I was a branch officer and on the national....not a lot going on really....and....NALGO was a challenge because it was nowhere as near the left wing as I was focused.....and I became involved with equal opportunities, that was my field and I had great battles with people, explaining that everybody in the work....you know, if anybody is being mistreated unequally it affects the whole workforce and we can’t just pick and choose our members and that was one of my main conflicts in things that I thought would be of importance and went on from there and I just became a workaholic....I became....I was doing a full-time job plus overtime plus being a single parent [laughing] adding you know, union work, and then of course there was Thatcher and everything else that was going on politically with that and I was involved in Troops Out and all sorts of.....working with people who had been tortured, it just went on and on and on and....in the late ‘80s, ’88 -’89 I just collapsed....

TW:

You burned out

FB: I burned out. I’d done about four, maybe five years if that, and every time there was a cut back I peddled harder to try and keep where we were because everything that I was involved in I thought was really important and it was, but...I hadn’t learnt to say ‘no’ – I hadn’t learnt to sit on my hands and I had a complete breakdown, I didn’t know what was going on....it was diagnosed as M E .

TW:

Really?

FB: In ’89 – ‘90

TW:

Was there a physical thing?

FB: I was paralysed for six months. I....I’d been working hard....it wasn’t uncommon for me to only have sort of one weekend out of three to do stuff and that would be the weekend out of the month that I would get a headache, you know, that was the....it seemed I was sort of able to save up all the stress until I could relax and so typically I’d had two weeks holiday and came back and was just really ill and....it was one of those....it was a strange time because I can only remember it now through people telling me because I just completely blanked but I’d...got a big presentation to do and nobody else in the office could do it, it was all in my head and it was coming up sort of just a month after I got back from my holiday and so I was too ill to pass the information on and apparently a taxi picked me up, I went to Regent’s Park....I talked for a couple of hours, I led a question

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and answers and workshops and things, I was put in a taxi....I had no recollection of it at all....and when I got home I didn’t move for six months. I cannot remember who I was, I can’t even....I was just in an absolute blank, void state and that was a real shock to me you know, I’d had a couple of pregnancies, I’d had a burst appendix, I’d had other things but nothing debilitated me, I was always you know, I used to do karate, dance and that whenever I could, so... suddenly you know, being totally immobilised was just....I’m not sure what the hell was going on because there were huge blanks there.........but it was all to do with the breakdown of my relationship, the loss of my job....I was retired....a crucial couple of years with my son because he was ten or eleven which was

TW:

A formative period

FB: Yes, very important....and it was like, you know, my partner at the time who I’d bought a house with....and we were planning to have children, just went off with somebody else and wanted to sell the house so we did....I was floored with negative energy – equity on the property, just everything – all my savings wiped out by not being able to work....and I thought ‘there is absolutely no fun living in London. It’s lovely to be in London for the things I want to do but I can’t do them....and I looked at a map and my mum was in Cornwall, there with my dad and I thought ‘I don’t want to go anywhere near them...I’d like to be somewhere green’ so I just looked at the map and put a pin in it and it landed on Hebden Bridge

TW:

Is that right?

FB: And it was just...it was just that, and it was only when I started to tell people that I’d planned just to leave London and move with my son up here....’oh I know somebody who lives there’ or ‘I’ve been there’ and you know, it was like ‘oh this is interesting, there’s some coincidences’ so I.....it was a long weekend and....in 91 and my son and I came up here for a visit and we stayed in a lovely B & B round on the edge of Cambridge Street along there and....it just felt right, straight away. I’ve had experience with seeing people come and go over these twenty years and it’s amazing that some people arrive in Hebden Bridge and all the opportunities just fall in their lap, it just seems to unfold and make it very easy and that’s what it was like for me....I thought ‘oh, I wonder if I could rent somewhere here and there was a health food shop called Aurora I think?

TW:

Yes that’s right

FB: And....I went in, and as I went in the woman was putting a postcard on the wall saying somebody had got a house that they wanted looking after and it was just like that you know, and I didn’t have time, I had to get a train but I spoke to the woman on the phone

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whose house it was you know, and when I came back a couple of weeks later with my son you know, the key was under the mat,[laughing] on the kitchen table was a lovely, you know, a box of fruit and veg that people had grown and some flowers. There was everybody’s phone number and address and contacts and it was like you know, within ten minutes there was half a dozen women in the house with some really welcoming and

TW:

Whereabouts was this?

FB: It was just in Unity Street

TW:

Oh right

FB: And....they’ve all now gone to Ireland but...it.....it was quite fascinating as well because......it really enabled me to ground myself.....Chris’s house was very earthy [laughing] I’d call it very earthy and......it enabled me to sort of like take time and to think ‘well who the hell am I, what is it with this creative thing that I keep missing out on’

TW:

Was that Chris Peel by any chance?

FB: Yes.

TW:

Oh right I know her, yeah.

FB: And...you know, she was just great and when she came back we shared for a little bit and I found a house in Foster Lane and it just....for me in many ways, smoothly unfolded from there. My M.E.’s gone up and down and after twenty years there’s been extra complications. I’ve had a lot of ill health...but I’ve had a lot of stress because my son became ill when he was about fourteen or fifteen – he’s thirty now – and that was really difficult but.....I’ve lived all over Hebden, from Foster Lane which was just two beds you know, one of those sort of back-to-back, tiny little place it is, then I moved on to Guildford Street and that was quite interesting there, it was a huge rambling place that hadn’t been updated since the fifties and no heating [laughing], the kitchen was in the basement and when the water table rose and it was cold enough, the kitchen floor was just sheet ice but you know, I was the mum and that was quite normal in Hebden Bridge you know, damp water running under the floor or this that and the other, and it was a really wonderfully creative time there, just to have the space to be able to do stuff....and I made lots of friends....travellers coming in and out of Hebden and I knew some from the 

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theatre from years ago we gradually, you know, there was links and that and it was.....I’m drying up now! [laughing] Keep going

TW:

How then did you become part of the Zion Co-operative?

FB: It was something I was looking at because at the time.....when was that.....it must have been about 2000 or just before.....my son hadn’t been living with me for a number of years and I was rattling around in a house that was too big for me; it was a Housing Association property and I was sort of, part of me was thinking ‘if he comes back I can’t cope with him, but if he comes back I would like him to have somewhere to live’ and so that’s where the seed of creating a housing co-op from my experience with the National Federation working for Islington Council in London on tenant management co-ops and stuff, so that’s where I was sort of moving. I happened to be Chair of the Ground Floor Project, probably for about the first ten years ago and.....I was just in the office and Dave Brookes had come in....the Ground Floor office, you know, a lot of support for people with ideas that come in and Jae Campbell who is the Manager you know, just said ‘Fern I think this is up your street – this is what Dave’s proposing – he’s living in the flat under the Zion Baptist Church and it’s coming up for sale. That means everybody that’s living there is going to be homeless but it’s just such a nice property and we think it could lend itself to be a co-op’ so that’s how I met Dave Brookes and...at that time Christina was already involved...I think that of the people here now that was just it, so I was there in an advisory capacity with experience of co-ops and with a personal interest for accommodation for my son in a supported environment.....that’s how it started. We took it through and we got gazumped on the Baptist Church but we’d called ourselves Zion Housing Co-op by then, so......

TW:

You had the name

FB: We had the name, it sort of did, it created all sort of interesting conversations with people, but it got boring after a while....and then....opposite you know, where I’d been living prior in Guildford Street was the Catholic church and that was coming up for sale and Justin who’s got the ‘Hole In The Wall’ – he was looking at the house which was the Vicarage and huge because he wanted to do some residential courses, so there was gonna be – there would be an opportunity for us, not just to convert the church into accommodation and meeting space, but also the possibility to build one or two bedroom dwellings around inside the walls, I mean it was fabulous. Most of the green land was with the house but after a chat with Justin, he would have loved somebody to have taken on responsibility for that and actually, it would have provided some work as well as accommodation for people, and it was a really ambitious project but one that could be done in steps – ‘right, go with this one’ – so Dave did a hell of a lot of work on raising the finance and getting everything into place. We were involved with Radical Roots before that stage as well and it was all coming together. Architects....

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there were two architects who did a lot of work on the idea and I made them a model, so we were deciding how to split up space and when you’ve got a huge space there’s not very many people can actually visualise unless you’ve got the hands-on stuff....so I made this model and it was....it was really pretty, I mean it was very simple and I also had an idea of....there’s some wonderful beams in churches that support the roof....of considering it like you know, like tree houses in...so there was this really creative thing coming out and I was getting more into ownership, you know when you do something you have to walk through that door

TW:

So you had a vision

FB: You had to get there, you had to...so working with the architect, I was getting, I found I was getting quite attached to this and so I asked everybody in the co-op, I said you know like ‘I’ve come to this for support and advice you know, we have meetings in the front room and all that and actually, I think this is what I want’ and so we went a lot more along the way of all the members then about digging together and putting down rules or not putting down rules and we had huge discussions about all the ins and outs of what we thought the people who had experience, who were living....it’s a bit frightening....people had had experience of like sharing food and entertaining and all that, it can be intimidating.....but anyway we got all this thing together and I was walking round the site of the church with the architect or Hilary, one of the architects, and it was like....where’s the drains?.....we can maybe piggy-back water and electricity through and do a deal with Justin, but that’s expense.....and when we had another look at our finances, that would have took up our emergency cover

TW:

The reserve funds or whatever

FB: Yes, so you know, it was, you know, we couldn’t go into that reserve fund before we’d even bought the place you know [laughing], that’s what it was gonna be, so we had to pull out, you know, we had to say ‘sorry, no’

TW:

That’s a real shame that

FB: It was a shame because the opportunity would have been....mind you it is on the darker side of the valley [laughing], so Dave was living up the road here at Wood End and we were all going gloomily to this meeting.....’what do we do now? We’ve got everything in place’ you know ‘yes, we were prepared for two years’ hard slog to build this – it’s not gonna happen’ you know, that sort of thing ‘what are we gonna do now?’....everywhere we’d been looking, the developers were coming in behind us, it’s almost like they’d tailed us you know, [laughing] we were frightened to be seen going to place in case

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somebody else, you know, like the old battery place, so on the way here I saw them putting the sign up For Sale for the ‘Tavern’. We had a meeting, Dave and I cooked up an idea, we sent a friend of mine who didn’t know anybody to the estate agents for the details.....Dave and I turned up for the viewing as the most implausible couple [laughing] but you know, we just didn’t wanna let on until we’d bought the place you know, we just didn’t want the flack.....and the couple who sold the place, Mr and Mrs Painter, the landlord and lady, they were lovely; he was ill, he’d bought this place in ’75 so it was dirt cheap when he bought it, trading as a pub, at that time I believe they bought the last piece of it, so I think ’75 as the first time the whole of the ‘Nutclough’

TW:

Was into one?

FB: Yeah, that we know, yeah, was one piece....he bought properties along here, you know, these rows across here, and they ceased trading even as a pub.....oh it must have been a couple of years before we bought it in 2002. I remember the second visit we’d been speaking to Mrs Painter and Dave and Mr Painter were doing all sorts of plumbing and knocking walls and all that stuff you know, what they were gonna hear I don’t know, and....they were talking because Mr Painter had converted all the bedrooms to have sinks and that and they were numbered and it was supposed to be a B & B, you know, when they shut down the pub for it to be a B & B and I just took a look and caught Mrs Painter’s look, and it was like ‘no way am I gonna be doing this!’ [laughing] ‘it’s kept him occupied for two years but if he’s thinking I’m gonna be doing bed and breakfast now, you know I want to chill’....unfortunately he was ill and.....by selling up all the properties he’d got in Hebden, he’d been able to buy a new place near his family, living with his wife, he’d been able to settle money on all his children, so when it came to selling this place, they just wanted to sell it – there was no.....there was no financial pressure on them to get a certain amount at all

TW:

So you got a good deal then

FB: We got a very, very good deal, and there were little things that we could do that they were really happy with and we moved in.

TW:

How many people moved in originally then?

FB: On the 23rd of December, which was when we got the keys to move in

TW:

What year was that?

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FB: It was 2002 and Christina, you know, moved in within the first week, it was sort of like....moving stuff in, I think Dave stayed with her the first night, Ziggy was a bit later, so was Coln because they were serving notices on where they were living you know, it all moved very fast, I mean it was only a matter of weeks, it couldn’t have been a quicker....it seemed right

TW:

So were most of these people from the original Zion then? They had places to live there?

FB: Yeah, I mean like Stuart at that time was in America so he didn’t move in for a year because he wasn’t in the country, but he was very much part of it and even after he left, he travelled off again, he didn’t...he still maintained the links with us and gave us a lot of support with the accounts and finances

TW:

Was that Stuart Cooper?

FB: Yes.

TW:

Oh yes I know him

FB: Yes, Stuart. Well he’s......supported before while he was here and for a long time after. Brooksie.....Dave Brookes ....I think when he moved in here he thought he’d got it for life and then he went and met the wonderful Emma, and things just turn on their heads don’t they, so two years later or three years later after moving in we celebrated their hand fasting here in the garden and....you know the travelling....and now they run the hostel at the Birchcliffe Centre, so we’ve got a....you know, they did the wheelie bins thing and that was very much.....a change in the co-op because the very strong energy came in, you know, when you imagine maybe two or three people who weren’t comfortable at living communally had moved on, with those vacancies, I mean that’s when just at that time Clive arrived.....I can’t remember names...because Dave and Emma were doing the wheelie bins which was at the Festival Café Support Network thing, we just got the very lovely Dave, we got our Brian who my mother thought was wonderful because his manners were perfect...who else...oh and Duncan Lowe so we suddenly had a whole group of people who were all working

TW:

All very active

FB:

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Very active, but also working on one thing which was....it was good...it was incredibly disruptive to the household because there was no...when you’ve got five out of eight people, you know like, when you’re sitting down to eat, the main thing, the important thing about living here is the communal meal at night – sharing food, ‘how did the day go’....if you’ve got five out of eight of you have all been working together and living together on sites and working, it becomes, whether they like it or not, becomes a very strong bubble so you feel, there was in Weirdigans and us not, you know, so....and that took a while for us to come to terms with and jig around and actually fully appreciate what effect it had on the co-op, and the largest effect was....that when Dunc Lowe decided to leave the wheelie bins set up and decided to move out, also Brian and then Dave and Em, so suddenly they all went off into different directions and that’s quite hard to fill

TW:

It must have left quite a gap really

FB: Yes it was a sort of a bit of a shock to the system.....and there was a bit of reshuffling things and then you get you know, Dave was sort of still with us.....then we had Gareth I think you know

TW:

I know Gareth, yeah

FB: Now then we’ve had....oh, Simon was a lovely person to be here as well [laughing] you know, he was here for a year or two. He actually, him and his wife, were also married in this garden and they had a humanist ceremony here

TW:

Very nice

FB: So....yeah you know, John went on and now he’s got married and you know, he’s got around a bit, but the biggest bit, is Bear is the whirlwind, the ever practical superstar, yeah....and that’s been a really interesting change to the co-op....I think it’s fair to say that me and Bear will lock heads more times than anybody else, but we’re just both passionate about what we believe in

TW:

Is that because you have different views on what it should be or is it just practical things that

FB: We have very different experiences of life you know.....to live communally, the cooperative principals, everything is so deep in me I couldn’t imagine any other

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way......also, creativity and appreciation and supporting and appreciating others is really important to me so I want to nurture that.....and sometimes.....you know, they give me the most wonderful opportunities to try and work out why I’m doing something or why it’s important [laughing] it’s a practical brick wall, yeah.

TW:

Is there a creative aspect to the co-operative then?

FB: Yes, from the very start

TW:

And what is that then?

FB: Well....it’s kind of about coming from recognising that creative people are probably mostly selling their souls into an advertising agency or for some film company or whatever....you’re not making money at it, it doesn’t....you cannot easily live off it and to be creative I believe it involves space and a spirit in the community you know, so if somebody is rubbing two sticks together with a bit of string, you know, and they’re in that creative zone, you respect that, you know, you wouldn’t say....it’s about respecting each other’s expression of creativity.....so we have live, Dave’s off in India doing circus skills and he’s ended up.....making his living out of his hobby and turned his life around and he’s now teaching children in India circus skills. He’s been out there for a few months now...Clive’s a singer/songwriter musician... Gethen’s very new......Gareth of course you know, he’s....wonderfully supportive with recording and sound and you know, all the tech stuff that I don’t understand and.....I think John, is, was an actor/musician..., who was here....Bear plays, Christina’s an actress/performer....who else have we got? [laughing] I’m just trying to think you know, Athol lived here for a while, he’s a musician... TW: Is it sort of the people, the creative people or is there any activities focused within?

FB:

It’s opportunity. It’s opportunity for people to make connections. Everybody who’s creative have got friends or people they will bring and stuff and there’s this wonderful mixing of meeting up with interesting people, yeah....it’s....there’s certain advantages, like you know, for Dave you know, Dave went to India for five months. If you bought a house or a flat you know, it would be difficult even if you were sort of sub-letting to be able to do that sort of thing....and you know, like many other creative people, his room is absolutely chock-a-block with costumes and everything you know, and all his clowning stuff and his performance things you know, and a bit like mine, you just can’t.....you sort of need space and.....Athol when he was playing, I mean he was away on tour regularly, more than he was here, but you know, he knew his record collection, his instruments and all his stuff was absolutely safe and he didn’t you know, so there was that...allowing

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people to travel away and come back you know, it’s part of it and...but you can’t...you can’t describe...you know, there’s no sort of ‘Nutclough’ stamp that says ‘made in the Nutclough’ – no, it’s about just respecting and supporting each other

TW:

You haven’t really spoken much about our own creativity. Would you like to talk about that a bit?

FB: Yes, I’m frustrated at the moment [laughing].....bloody frustrated yeah....I love you know, I love the theatre and doing that sort of stuff but that’s physically beyond me, I mean the last piece of work I did was probably three years ago when John and High Hat Theatre was doing a tour of production and I loved working quite intimately with two people and....that was....that was ideal for me. It posed all sorts of problems but it was a joy to solve them and a joy to work with John, so I can do little things like that, no but that isn’t really the thing is it? I....since I’ve come to Hebden....when did I.....in the mid nineties I thought I’d do a bit of skills. I wanted to do some welding....I’d got some idea of something that I wanted to create, my work comes from interactions with people. It’s performance associated with all the props you know, props whatever they are, maybe it’s just a one to one and it’s about the experience between....I think it came from when I was working with Wet Paint in the early eighties [laughing] and the number of times the audience was less than the crowd on the stage, but yeah, it’s about that real connection between the artist and the person participating in the experience, so yes, my art experience is happenings and all that stuff....yeah, pursuing and idea

TW:

What did you weld then?

FB: Well I didn’t. I joined Calderdale College and they lied to me [laughing]. What a surprise! There was a change of leadership or there was a change round and there was no ability to do anything like that. I got back into a bit of ceramics, mind you to me ceramics is playing with clay, it’s not really what I do

TW:

It depends how you do it

FB: Yeah, it’s for me it’s a way of exploring something

TW:

Like ideas?

FB: Yes, I might be exploring something through it but I still you know, the finished objects are only for my own reason or referral, that’s how I perceive them.....yeah, where am I?

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So, I was very involved...didn’t go for Calderdale College. Somebody told me about the one at Tod so this was still in the early nineties and I was absolutely knocked out at the work they do there.

TW:

That’s the one Mary Loney runs.

FB: Yes she did, and I was very cheeky you know, because I’d already qualified and everything and anyway I did a Foundation [laughing] I did a Foundation in Art and really had a lovely time with the people who were there, like it was just my ethos of working with found material, stuff around you, creating, developing, not being precious about.....you know, just actually being able to develop ideas, working with other students, and I suddenly found that I had a bit of a knack working with other students......especially at stuck points. I’d probably you know, I’d experienced enough of them to....

TW:

So you kind of facilitated other people?

FB: Yeah, and fortunately that’s what I do, so instead of pursuing with my own art, yet again I got involved as part of the support network and working with other people

TW:

Are you still doing that?

FB: No, I had to give up through ill health. My health just....I mean, only eight years ago I was doing...I remember.....I had....it was around 2000ish, it was one of the Hebden Bridge festivals and probably, yeah, the climax of all the work I’d been doing up to then came when I actually turned my whole house.....it was the year Tracey’s bed had got the....Tracey Emin’s bed had got the nomination and so I completely decorated and transformed my whole house with anything personal up in the attic and created a very virginal bed with starched lace and everything on the middle bedroom and Eileen lived next door to me, and she was also working with a poetry performance and we worked out this whole thing and it ran for you know, two performances a day for....six weekends I think we did, yeah

TW:

A fair few

FB: It was a fair few, and it was a long time to leave your house totally unliveable [laughing]. Lots of people had contributed to the art work but I particularly asked an artist who’s a watercolour wildlife painter and she produced a sculpture that she’d never shown, so lots

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of artists produced things to fill the house but they were not their normal, it was about...if someone had recognised their name they would have to adjust, it was all about that....a young woman, Linda, who was at college when I was there, she produced some beautiful paintings and Mary had assisted her. Linda’s profoundly restricted in her movements and it was a joy because there was a very narrow staircase up to the first floor with all Linda’s pictures in this most awkward, inaccessible spot, and we sold a couple which was lovely – the only thing we did, but that was good.....but it was just....it was great fun. I’d been working.....with a food piece.....a kind of, I covered her in saccharine pasta.........yeah, there was a thing going on in my work that was about male and female and somewhere eggs had got into the equation, and there was egg yolks and flour made pasta and egg whites and sugar made meringue, so there was a huge piece. I’d made a complete body suit out of meringue all fitted together that I believe was worn by a woman in Manchester, though I never saw the result! [laughing] I remember having to deliver it in loads of pizza boxes, it was great. So all the meringue went that way and disappeared from me, it went out into chance, and the pasta stuff, we had a whole thing where I made the pasta, I’d sourced the eggs, I knew exactly where the flour came from, where the mill was, and I think some of my work is a bit like....you know the Japanese tea party, the tea ceremony?

TW:

I do yeah.

FB: And the ceremony master has to know absolutely everything about everything that can be seen and is in that enclosed space, and you don’t sit there and lecture people about it, but if somebody looked at the wooden box you’d know who’d made it, you’d know where the wood came from...you’d know where the wood grew if you could, you know what I mean, it’s....so that’s kind of how I approach my work – is knowing every detail, of having absolute control of understanding where everything’s come from, but not necessarily boring anybody else with it, but it’s there, you know, so that was, yeah, one of the pieces was

TW:

The pasta piece

FB: The pasta piece, which was of that moment and involved about a hundred students in all. We had the ceremonial rolling, carrying pasta, draping it – it did look a bit like Rule Britannia when it was finished! [laughing] but the whole idea was the moment that happened as it dried. I didn’t realise how much heat it would take out of his body in the drying process so Chris started to go slightly blue

TW:

Is that right?

FB:

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Yeah, and we had Ted Hughes on something that had come through – you know the cheap books that they try and sell you and tell you you’ve ordered and you get them and you didn’t order them and they’re a pain to get back? Well the morning I left to do this piece with Chris....Ted Hughes’s CD came through this door and I thought ‘oh that might be...’ so we’d got this little broom cupboard, we’d got Ted Hughes playing, we’d got Chris being draped up like Rule Britannia, there was poor Jim stuck in a corner on this tiny little box to get a bit of height videoing the whole thing and...we decided that he was going too blue, and [laughing] and I just left the room and he just broke out of it, and Jim was able to record that and then sometimes I keep thinking....we’ve got it all on video and we must try and find the bloody thing, but the piece wasn’t about recording the experience, but the experience was just in the moment....and I think the moment came as I turned my back and walked out the door, and I’ve talked over your hour I would imagine

TW:

Not yet. I was just wondering. You have this wonderful terraced garden and just a fantastic space, and you have all kinds of things growing here. Do you look at it as a kind of performance space in any kind of way?

FB: This very much to me is....yeah, the creative space. We’ve had Shakespeare here.

TW:

Oh have you?

FB: Oh yes. We do good parties here. You can get a marquee over this one and that one so you’ve got a lovely back stage and audience....yeah, it’s....we need to do a few things before we can...it’s not safe enough for health and safety, but you know, it’s pretty dangerous for kids. I don’t mind it being a bit dangerous. The drops are a bit high. So we do that with planting, actually planting the flowers and that. I’m very conscious of the shapestheymakeandtheopportunitiestofusethroughand. It’sprobablymycreative sensitivity that makes me want to hug the garden [laughing] and not let people just lop things down and do stuff you know.

TW:

Well one final question then. What direction do you think the co-op will go in? I know it’s a prediction, but over the next few years, sort of five or ten years, how do you think it will progress?

FB: It would be nice to have got all the physical jobs done....we’ve done quite a bit with it physically but nowhere near enough and now it’s got to the stage where it really does need some attention, and that’s difficult to find that balance between people who are active and doing things....people like myself physically can’t do things. I can give you a list of things that need doing but

15

TW:

Project management [laughing]

FB: Yes but you know, when you’ve got you know, people who are working for umpteen hours every day you know, they need a break. I know more than anyone not to get burnt out so.....this time, living communally, adding to ill health has probably made me much more tolerant than....of things but you know....but you can’t change, you just....so yes it would be nice for practical purposes, adding physically to the building. As for jelling together, it’s other people, it’s great, we’ve had a very steady time for a while. Graham moved out in November.....and....I’ve forgotten to mention Nimbi for us, he’s a comedian and everything

TW:

Sorry, who?

FB: Graham.....do you remember Graham?

TW:

I don’t think I know Graham

FB: And.......you know so we get a new person and you know, Gethen’s great and he’s young and that’s what it needs to be; it needs to be

TW:

A nice mix

FB: A nice mix.....and.......yeah, understanding. The one thing that we really can’t do is probably have children here. It’s not...... the household and everything, how it’s set up, pretty much excludes children on a permanent basis. We just don’t have the room that they need – their own rooms and things and the planning, that can’t work with us as we are now but we have children who come in as friends and partners’ children....children who don’t live with their parents, so....we get a.....we get an energetic boost from the youngsters occasionally which is good! [laughing] And I try not to tell them.....been there before, done it....

TW:

Is there anything else that you’d like to say about living here, or about yourself or anything like that, that I haven’t asked about?

FB: The positive things....I mean physically today I’m doing quite well. I had major surgery

16

last year and for about two years I wasn’t able to get out of the house, barely at all, and my God, six months of that was just....agony, and there’s a wonderful web site called ‘Pain Support’ that I’d....been trying to you know, even if I could just about look at you know, ten minutes of e-mails a day; I was in a bit of a bad way last year and.....I....can I remember now.....it’s given me an understanding of communicating with other people when you’re in similar pain to me at the time for similar reasons and stuff.....the lack of support people get you know, I was suddenly thinking ‘how lucky I am to live in a house with eight other people’ you know, ‘I don’t have to worry about...has somebody put the rubbish bin out’.....just you know, there was always somebody who want to you know, ‘do you want some shopping or do you want anything?’ there was....you don’t have to have people sort of running after you all the time, but just to feel that you’re not alone....and I think that’s got to be important in the future with our population ageing and the services reducing, it’s definitely something that people should consider. When they don’t need the family home and the other you know, to actually live communally is a huge benefit. I mean I do feel a bit guilty sometimes when I can’t physically do the things that I’d like to do, but I do kind of think ‘I did a lot’ [laughing].....there’s been times when I’ve done a bloody lot so, it’s got to all even out some time.

TW:

Okay, well that’s it

FB: Thank you. I didn’t realise I could talk on so much...

TW:

Well thank you very much

FB: Thank you

[END OF TRACK 1]

About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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